Ford is set to invest $1bn over the next five years in a new driverless car unit, Argo, led by two engineers who were previously at Google and Uber, marking a shift for the automaker that had previously tried develop autonomous vehicles in-house.

The move marks the most concrete evidence yet of how Ford intends to reach its goal of launching a commercial autonomous vehicle fleet by 2021, one of the most ambitious goals from any carmaker.

The new group, Argo, is fully funded and majority-owned by Ford. It will be organised as a quasi-independent unit headquartered in Pittsburgh and run by its two founders.

In making the commitment, Ford finds itself in the company of other carmakers such as General Motors, which paid $1bn to acquire driverless startup Cruise, and Toyota, which pledge in 2015 to invest $1bn in self-driving research in Silicon Valley .

Ford describes Argo as a “startup”, although the group has no other investors. The unusual structure of the deal highlights how competitive it is to recruit talent for self-driving car research.

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